Could WhatsApp be banned in Britain as UK law proposes to make platforms end-to-end encryption illegal

It's the most popular messaging app in the UK, but WhatsApp could soon be banned if it refuses to comply with the new Online Safety Bill.

It’s the most popular messaging app in the UK, but WhatsApp could soon be banned if it refuses to comply with the new Online Safety Bill.

Under the Bill, tech companies will have a duty to find and remove illegal content being distributed through their social networking platforms.

But this could mean doing away with ‘end-to-end encryption’ – a security feature which scrambles messages to ensure that only the sender and recipient can read them.

Messaging services that use it, including WhatsApp, Signal, Viber and Element, have signed an open letter opposing the Online Safety Bill ahead of its final reading in the House of Lords.

‘The UK government is currently considering new legislation that opens the door to trying to force technology companies to break end-to-end encryption on private messaging services,’ it reads.
‘The law could give an unelected official the power to weaken the privacy of billions of people around the world.

‘We don’t think any company, government or person should have the power to read your personal messages and we’ll continue to defend encryption technology.’

It claims that end-to-end encryption is ‘one of the strongest possible defenses’ against threats like online fraud, scams and data theft.

The signatories also claim that a ‘British internet’, which has its own version of weakened security, cannot be created by global apps to suit the UK government.

It is signed by Will Cathcart, Meta’s head of WhatsApp, who openly said that he would would refuse to comply with the Online Safety Bill last month.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with UK legislators to discuss the proposed law, Mr Cathcart described the Bill as the most concerning piece of legislation currently being discussed in the western world.

And in September, he openly said it was ‘puzzling’ that governments wanted to weaken security in this way, not bolster it.

WhatsApp cannot see messages sent via its own service, and so cannot comply with law enforcement requests to either hand them over for anti-terror purposes or to identify and remove child-abuse material, for example.

But the UK Government insists that it is possible to have both privacy and child safety.

The Online Safety Bill has been working its way through Parliament since being published in draft form in May 2021.

It is designed to help clamp down on online trolling and illegal forms of pornography by placing more responsibility on the platforms that internet users use.

As part of this, it allows the UK Government or regulator Ofcom to require companies to scan the contents of messages sent through their platforms for illegal content.

However, doing so would likely force them to weaken or do away with their own security measures.

The Government insisted that the Bill ‘does not represent a ban on end-to-end encryption’ and that ‘we can and must have both’ privacy and child safety.